Why Study Political Science?

Politics have been put under scrutiny in a systematic way since the ancient Greeks. Aristotle even called it the Queen of the Sciences. Our own Constitution is the product of both the scholarly study of political theory and a practical framework for political institutions and norms. Our faculty in the Department of Political Science engage politics in a scientific and rigorous way to understand human behavior and world events. Study political science to prepare yourself for a career in campaigns, public policy, business, administration, political advocacy, or public service, but also to become an informed and active citizen.

Political science is a broad and rich discipline. Some of our faculty members conduct research on the psychology of why people behave the way they do politically. Others study institutions such as legislatures, courts, and bureaucracies both as organizations and as political actors themselves. Other faculty members seek to clarify recent constitutional and legal issues. Many study foreign political systems to learn the peculiarities of different political systems comparing them regionally and globally. Our political theorists are intellectual historians and social critics interested in the millennia-long quest for the good society. Still others are policy analysts and dedicated students of American politics. Many are statistical theorists and specialists in surveying political attitudes. Our comparative and international relations experts investigate the causes of war and the conditions for peace among nations.

Political science majors are comfortable at the intersection of the humanities and the sciences. Poli Sci majors can apply rigor to problems and they can articulate solutions with clarity and with an analytical command of data. Poli Sci graduates move into a wide spectrum of positions that demand well-honed writing and presentation skills. Poli Sci graduates can apply reason and rigor to problems that are often consumed by ideology and emotion. Other disciplines may also stress rigor, but Political Science will keep you honest. The ability to define a problem and contribute to its solution while placing it within political, social, and cultural realities is a rare skill indeed, with applications well beyond the narrow confines of political work. The wide range of intellectual, analytical, qualitative, and quantitative skills, and a broad knowledge of world events that Poli Sci majors develop form the cornerstone of a powerful liberal arts education. 

What careers do Political Science majors pursue?

Poli Sci majors learn quickly, work well in teams, and have basic understanding of the policy process and the operations of government. Poli Sci majors understand that for every endeavor, no matter how important, there is a mountain of ordinary grunt work that has to be done. Poli Sci majors can be counted on to do the foot-work, put in the face-time, and endure the slog necessary of everything of consequence.

Poli Sci majors go on to work in all levels of government. Local and state governments have a direct impact on the quality of life of all Americans. Courses on state and urban government, public policy, administrative law, and public administration are especially valuable. Quantitative and statistical skills developed in these courses and applied in the internships many of our students do provide a powerful combination.

Poli Sci majors go on to work in a wide range of International careers, in business, Foreign Service, and non-governmental organizations. Political Science offers a wide variety of courses in comparative politics, international relations and organizations, public policy, political development, and interest group politics. These courses in combination with economics, statistics, computer science, and international trade.

Poli Sci majors pursue careers in campaign management, political polling, national political committees, and consulting. They will have taken multiple courses in the American political system, comparative political parties, elections, public opinion, and voting behavior; as well as committing themselves to developing their writing and data analysis. There are over half a million campaigns in the United States annually, and while entry level jobs have long hours, low pay, and enormous demands, they are places where you can ‘cut your political teeth’. Local campaigns lead to statewide or national campaigns, and then perhaps to consulting and polling if that strikes your interest.

Poli Sci majors have also traditionally gone into law. Some lawyers are litigators while others are employed by corporations, government, and other organizations. Political Science track fits nicely for students seeking law degrees as official credentials to ‘practice law’ and those students who seek a law degree as an additional ‘tool’ to make positive impacts in their professional areas of interest. Some individuals with legal training work in other areas such as corporate or public management. The department offers a wide variety of political theory, constitutional law, and public policy courses that will help you explore the interaction between law, politics, and society.

Students in the College of Letters & Science can declare Political Science by completing a form on the department website. After meeting with the major advisor, that declaration will be made official.

Students in other schools and colleges interested in adding the Political Science major to their primary degree program need a declaration form signed by the Political Science advisor in order to obtain permission from their home school/college to add the additional major.  

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A & Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A & Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

College of Letters & Science Breadth and Degree Requirements: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)

Students pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in the College of Letters & Science must complete all of the requirements below. The College of Letters & Science allows this major to be paired with either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science curriculum. View a comparison of the degree requirements here.

Bachelor of Arts degree requirements

Mathematics Fulfilled with completion of University General Education requirements Quantitative Reasoning a (QR A) and Quantitative Reasoning b (QR B) coursework. Please note that some majors may require students to complete additional math coursework beyond the B.A. mathematics requirement.
Foreign Language
  • Complete the fourth unit of a foreign language; OR
  • Complete the third unit of a foreign language and the second unit of an additional foreign language

Note: A unit is one year of high school work or one semester/term of college work.
L&S Breadth
  • Humanities, 12 credits: 6 of the 12 credits must be in literature
  • Social Sciences, 12 credits
  • Natural Sciences, 12 credits: must include one 3+ credit course in the biological sciences; must include one 3+ credit course in the physical sciences
Liberal Arts and Science Coursework 108 credits
Depth of Intermediate/Advanced work 60 intermediate or advanced credits
Major Declare and complete at least one (1) major
Total Credits 120 credits
UW-Madison Experience 30 credits in residence, overall
30 credits in residence after the 86th credit
Minimum GPAs 2.000 in all coursework at UW–Madison
2.000 in intermediate/advanced coursework at UW–Madison

Non–L&S students pursuing an L&S major

Non–L&S students who have permission from their school/college to pursue an additional major within L&S only need to fulfill the major requirements and do not need to complete the L&S breadth and degree requirements above.  Please note that the following special degree programs are not considered majors so are not available to non–L&S degree-seeking candidates:  

  • Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics (Bachelor of Science–Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics)
  • Journalism (Bachelor of Arts–Journalism; Bachelor of Science–Journalism)
  • Music (Bachelor of Music)
  • Social Work (Bachelor of Social Work)

Requirements for the Major

30 credits are required in the following areas:


Three courses and three areas required: 9-12
International Relations
Introduction to International Relations
The European Union: Politics and Political Economy
Theories of International Security
Conflict Resolution
China in World Politics
Analysis of International Relations
International Political Economy
Politics of the World Economy
International Institutions and World Order
Principles of International Law
American Foreign Policy
Gender and Politics in Comparative Perspective
Government and Natural Resources
African International Relations
The Politics of Development
American Government
Introduction to American Politics and Government
Introduction to American Politics
Introduction to State Government
Introduction to Political Psychology
Law, Politics and Society
Politics in Multi-Cultural Societies
African and African-American Linkages: An Introduction
Mexican-American Politics
The Political Economy of Race in the United States
Elections and Voting Behavior
Civil Liberties in the United States
United States Congress
Criminal Law and Justice
Legislative Internship
Wisconsin in Washington Internship Course
State Government and Public Policy
The American Presidency
American Parties and Politics
Citizenship, Democracy, and Difference
The American Constitution : Powers and Structures of Government
The American Constitution: Rights and Civil Liberties
The Supreme Court as a Political Institution
The Separation of Powers and Federal Courts
Community Power and Grass Roots Politics
The American Judicial System
Administrative Law
Study Abroad Topics in Political Science: American Government
American National Security: Policy and Process
Politics of Government Regulation
Campaign Finance
Interest Group Politics
Public Opinion
Political Communications
African American Political Theory
Wisconsin in Washington Advanced Public Policy Course
Political Theory
Introduction to Political Theory
Development of Ancient and Medieval Western Political Thought
The Development of Modern Western Political Thought
History of American Political Thought
Contemporary American Political Thought
Literature and Politics
Topics in Political Philosophy
Deception and Politics
Women and Politics
African American Political Theory
Radical Political Theory
Study Abroad Topics in Political Science: Political Theory
Comparative Politics
Politics Around the World
Politics Around the World (Honors)
Politics in Multi-Cultural Societies
Introduction to Southeast Asia: Vietnam to the Philippines
Russia: An Interdisciplinary Survey
Eastern Europe: An Interdisciplinary Survey
Introduction to East Asian Civilizations
Latin America: An Introduction
Africa: An Introductory Survey
African and African-American Linkages: An Introduction
Latin-American Politics
Politics of Southeast Asia
Political Power in Contemporary China
Social Movements and Revolutions in Latin America
Indian Politics in Comparative Perspective
African Politics
Political Economy of Development
German Politics
Russian Politics
The Challenge of Democratization
Latino History and Politics
Social Mobilization in Latin America
Contentious Politics
Comparative Legal Institutions
Religion and Politics
The Politics of Human Rights
Political Inequality: Measures, Causes, Effects and Remedies
Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict
Comparative Political Culture
The Comparative Study of Genocide
Arab-Israeli Conflict
Socialism and Transitions to the Market
Electoral Systems and Representation
Politics and Policies in the European Union
Comparative Politics of Sport
Study Abroad Topics in Political Science: Comparative Politics
Total Credits9-12

research methods

Complete one course from:3-4
Research Methods in Political Science
Understanding Political Numbers
Political Choice and Strategy
Analysis of International Relations
Introduction to Survey Research
Introduction to Statistical Inference for Political Research
Total Credits3-4


Additional POLI SCI courses to attain 30 credits in the major.2

residence and quality of work

  • 2.000 GPA in all POLI SCI courses and courses that count toward the major
  • 2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level credits in the major, taken in residence3
  • 15 credits in POLI SCI, taken on campus

Honors in the Major

To declare Honors in the Major, students must have at least one POLI SCI course for Honors, at least a 3.300 University GPA, and meet with the major advisor to discuss the requirements.  

To earn Honors in the Major, students must satisfy the requirements for the major (above) and these additional requirements:

  • Earn a 3.300 or higher University GPA
  • Earn 3.500 GPA or higher in all POLI SCI courses
  • Complete at least 20 credits in POLI SCI for Honors to include:4
POLI SCI 601 Proseminar: Topics in Political Science3
POLI SCI 685 Honors Research Internship in Political Science1-3
and one of these Thesis sequences:6-8
Senior Honors Thesis
and Senior Honors Thesis
Senior Honors Thesis Seminar
and Senior Honors Thesis Seminar
Additional POLI SCI courses taken for Honors 46-10
Total Credits20

Distinction in the Major in Political Science

Students not declared for Honors in the Major may be awarded Distinction in the Major, if they have: 

  • a 3.700 GPA or higher on all POLI SCI courses and courses that count toward the major
  • a University GPA of 3.000 or higher
  • 20 credits of upper-level work in the major, taken in residence
  • One of the following

University Degree Requirements 

Total Degree To receive a bachelor's degree from UW–Madison, students must earn a minimum of 120 degree credits. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 degree credits. Students should consult with their college or department advisor for information on specific credit requirements.
Residency Degree candidates are required to earn a minimum of 30 credits in residence at UW–Madison. "In residence" means on the UW–Madison campus with an undergraduate degree classification. “In residence” credit also includes UW–Madison courses offered in distance or online formats and credits earned in UW–Madison Study Abroad/Study Away programs.
Quality of Work Undergraduate students must maintain the minimum grade point average specified by the school, college, or academic program to remain in good academic standing. Students whose academic performance drops below these minimum thresholds will be placed on academic probation.
  1. Develop an understanding of and appreciation for the methods and approaches of diverse subfields in Political Science-­‐American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory-­‐and their relevance to important theoretical and pragmatic questions.
  2. Analyze different forms and practices of governance both democratic and non‐democratic.
  3. Argue effectively and defend propositions with intellectual integrity, while considering a range of alternative points of view and evidence.
  4. Analyze relations among individuals, civil society, political institutions, and states.
  5. Analyze the motivations and consequences of political decision‐making and activities.

Sample Four-Year Plan

This Sample Four-Year Plan is a tool to assist students and their advisor(s). Students should use it—along with their DARS report, the Degree Planner, and Course Search & Enroll tools—to make their own four-year plan based on their placement scores, credit for transferred courses and approved examinations, and individual interests. As students become involved in athletics, honors, research, student organizations, study abroad, volunteer experiences, and/or work, they might adjust the order of their courses to accommodate these experiences. Students will likely revise their own four-year plan several times during college.

First Year
POLI SCI 104, 120, 140, or 1603-4POLI SCI 104, 120, 140, or 160 (complete two)3-4
Communications A3Literature Breadth3
Quantitative Reasoning A3Foreign Language (if needed)4
Foreign Language (if needed)4 
 14 15
Second Year
Declare the major POLI SCI elective3
POLI SCI 207, 231, 297, or 355 (satisfes Ethnic Studies requirement)3-4Communications B4
POLI SCI 270, 274, 348, or 374 (satisfies Quantitative Reasoning B requirement)3-4Physical Science Breadth3
Biological Science Breadth3Literature Breadth3
INTER-LS 2101 
 15 16
Third Year
POLI SCI course 300 and above4POLI SCI course 300 and above3
POLI SCI 202 (required for WIW participants)1Humanities Breadth3
Humanities Breadth3Science Breadth3
Science Breadth3Elective6
Elective3Apply for Senior Thesis (optional)1
 14 15
Fourth Year
POLI SCI course 300 and above4POLI SCI course 300 and above6
POLI SCI 681, 683, or 691 (optional)13-4POLI SCI 682, 684, or 692 (optional)13-4
 16 15
Total Credits 120

Sample Three-Year Plan

This Sample Three-Year Plan is a tool to assist students and their advisor(s). Students should use it —along with their DARS report, the Degree Planner, and Course Search & Enroll tools — to make their own three-year plan based on their placement scores, credit for transferred courses and approved examinations, and individual interests.

Three-year plans may vary considerably from student to student, depending on their individual preparation and circumstances. Students interested in graduating in three years should meet with an advisor as early as possible to discuss feasibility, appropriate course sequencing, post-graduation plans (careers, graduate school, etc.), and opportunities they might forgo in pursuit of a three-year graduation plan.

Departmental Expectations

Students planning to graduate within three years with a Political Science major should enter the University with a minimum of 18 advanced standing credits, and have satisfied the following requirements with course credit or via placement examination:

  • Communication Part A
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A
  • 18 credits of any elective coursework
  • 3-4 units of foreign language

Students missing one or more of these requirements upon entering the University should talk to their advisor about completing coursework over Summer terms to stay on track for a three year timeline.

First Year
POLI SCI 104, 120, 140, or 1604Declare the Major
POLI SCI 104, 120, 140, or 1604POLI SCI 104, 120, 140, or 1604
Biological Science Breadth3POLI SCI Elective3
Literature Breadth3Communication B4
Intermediate or Advanced COMP SCI, MATH, or STAT (if B.S.) or Elective (if B.A.)3Literature Breadth3
 Physical Science Breadth3
 17 17
Second Year
POLI SCI 207, 231, 297, or 355 (satisfies Ethnic Studies)4POLI SCI course 300 and above4
POLI SCI 270, 274, or 348 (satisfies Quantitative Reasoning B)4POLI SCI course 300 and above3
Humanities Breadth3Humanities Breadth3
Science Breadth3Intermediate or Advanced COMP SCI, MATH, or STAT (if B.S.) or Elective (Intermediate or Advanced level) (if B.A.)3
Elective3Elective (Intermediate or Advanced level)3
 INTER-LS 2101
 Apply for Senior Thesis (optional)1
 17 17
Third Year
POLI SCI course 300 and above4POLI SCI course 300 and above4
POLI SCI 681, 683, or 69114POLI SCI course 300 and above3
Science Breadth3POLI SCI 682, 684, or 69214
Electives (Intermediate or Advanced level)6Electives (Intermediate or Advanced level)6
 17 17
Total Credits 102


The Department of Political Science has two academic advisors and one career advisor who are available to meet with you to offer guidance on:

  • Course selection
  • Program planning
  • Internships opportunities
  • Study abroad programs
  • Post-college plans
  • Career prospects
  • Scholarship opportunities
  • Student research interests
  • Transfer and study abroad credits

Advisors are available for 30-minute appointments and are available for walk-in advising Mondays from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m. each week during the academic year. Please note that no advising appointments are scheduled via email.  Information about scheduling appointments can be found here.

Enrollment Information

Political science majors who wish to enroll in the following course(s) must obtain prior consent/authorization:

  • Directed Study (note that after the sixth week of class students adding a Directed Study must obtain permission from the department chair)
  • Thesis
  • Proseminars (varies by specific course; check footnotes in the class schedule)
  • Specific Topic
  • Honors Research Internship
  • Other advanced-level coursework with permission of the undergraduate advisor and consent of the instructor in lieu of other required courses

Information and course descriptions for topics courses (POLI SCI 201, POLI SCI 400, POLI SCI 401) and proseminars (POLI SCI 601, POLI SCI 601, POLI SCI 601) are posted on the department website prior to each enrollment period. POLI SCI 315 Legislative Internship is available by application only. Specific deadlines will be announced each semester. For further information, see Internships on the department website. Students with a classification making them ineligible for certain courses due to retroactive or AP credits may see the instructor for possible permission to enroll on a space available basis. Students who wish to enroll in a course that is closed may use the online wait list available through the Student Center in MyUW. The number of credits for variable credit courses is determined by course format and contact periods for a specific semester as noted in the class schedule. For graduate programs, see the Graduate section of this Guide.

Honors in Political Science

Honors in the Major in Political Science is intended for students who are eager to experience the excitement of original research and who wish to graduate with the best possible undergraduate training in the discipline. Honors in the Major is especially appropriate for students who are considering graduate work in political science or who want an especially rigorous training in research, reasoning, and writing skills. Students should consult with the department advisor to determine the best way to fulfill Honors requirements and how to make the most out of the Honors in the Major experience in the field.

See the Requirements section for political science Honors in the Major requirements.

Proactive planning and frequent collaboration with majors advisors is key to successfully completing Honors in the Major. It is recommended that students complete the Proseminar or Honors Research Internship in their junior year.

Students should secure a faculty thesis advisor by the end of their junior year; successful theses normally include planning activities during the junior year. Students should enroll for the Honors Thesis Colloquium, POLI SCI 683 in the Fall and POLI SCI 684 in the Spring. Students must be making sufficient progress in POLI SCI 683 to be admitted into POLI SCI 684; Students not making sufficient progress will not be admitted into POLI SCI 684, and will consequently not complete Honors in Political Science.  Rarely, students may enroll in the independent honors thesis, POLI SCI 681 in the Fall and POLI SCI 682 with the permission of the Political Science advisor and the supervising faculty thesis advisor. Likewise, students must be making sufficient progress in POLI SCI 681 to be admitted into POLI SCI 682; Students not making sufficient progress will not be admitted into POLI SCI 682, and will consequently not complete Honors in Political Science.

Career Advising

Students can find information about meeting with the career and internship advisor here.

L&S career resources

SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science helps students leverage the academic skills learned in their major, certificates, and liberal arts degree; explore and try out different career paths; participate in internships; prepare for the job search and/or graduate school applications; and network with professionals in the field (alumni and employers). In short, SuccessWorks helps students in the College of Letters & Science discover themselves, find opportunities, and develop the skills they need for success after graduation.

SuccessWorks can also assist students in career advising, résumé and cover letter writing, networking opportunities, and interview skills, as well as course offerings for undergraduates to begin their career exploration early in their undergraduate career. 

Students should set up their profiles in Handshake to take care of everything they need to explore career events, manage their campus interviews, and apply to jobs and internships from 200,000+ employers around the country.

Professors Burden, Canon, Cramer, Gehlbach, Hendley, Herrera, Marquez, Martin, Mayer, Pevehouse, Schatzberg, Schweber, Shafer, Straus, Tripp, Weimer, Yackee, Zumbrunnen

Associate Professors Ahlquist, Avramenko, Copelovitch, Ewig, Kapust, Kinsella, Kydd, Owens, Ringe, Shelef

Assistant Professors Bhavnani, Lindsay, Lupu, Powell, Renshon, Simmons, Tahk, Weeks

For appointments, see schedule an advising appointment on the Political Science Major page on the department website.